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Flathead Reservation Water Management Board appoints new members

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FLATHEAD RESERVATION — The Flathead Reservation Water Management Board is gradually taking shape, with two members recently appointed by the CSKT Tribal Council, and county commissions in Lake, Sanders, Missoula, and Flathead counties having submitted their nominees to Gov. Greg Gianforte by Dec. 16. 

The board, which must be seated by March 17 according to language in the CSKT Water Compact settlement, will have two members appointed by the Tribes, two appointed by the governor, a fifth selected by those four members, and a sixth non-voting member chosen by the Secretary of the Interior. 

The Tribal Council’s two picks for the board are Clayton Matt and Teresa Wall-McDonald, both tribal members with extensive experience in tribal government. 

Matt graduated from the University of Montana and went on to earn a master’s degree in water resource administration from the University of Arizona. He headed CSKT’s Natural Resource Department and was spokesman for the Tribal Water Rights Negotiation Team. Matt has been a member of the tribal executive staff since 2010 and is currently director of Tribal Services.

Wall-McDonald earned a bachelor’s degree from Great Falls College-MSU and a master’s in education administration from Gonzaga University. She began working with tribal government in 1980 and was appointed to the Tribal Council in 1984 to fill an 18-month vacancy. She was part of the team that prepared the Tribes’ legal case to assume ownership of Kerr Dam. 

Wall-McDonald has served as CSKT personnel director and head of Human Resource Development, Tribal Lands, and the Tribal Health Department. She is currently director of Human Resources for Salish Kootenai College.

Last Monday, the Lake County Commissioners forwarded five nominees to Gov. Gianforte, selected from seven candidates. Their picks are:

• Dennis DeVries, a Polson resident with an extensive background in agriculture. He served with the Lake County Conservation District for 20 years, and as its chairman was involved in early discussions with the Tribal Council and Montana Water Compact Commission about water issues on the reservation. A native of Conrad, he holds a degree in agricultural economics with additional education in bank management and spent more than 20 years as an agricultural lender. He recently retired from a six-year stint as Polson’s city judge. 

• Roger Noble, who holds a master’s in geology and has more than 40 years of experience in water supply, water rights permitting and groundwater contaminant investigations. Although Noble resides in Kalispell, he also owns a seasonal residence on Skidoo Bay near Polson. He has served on several Flathead County boards, including the Board of Health, Board of Adjustments and Solid Waste Board, and is the senior hydrologist for Water and Environment Technologies. 

• Kenneth Pitt of Polson, a former Special Assistant U.S. Attorney who was charged with litigating federal water rights in the Montana Water Court from 1983-1993. During his lengthy career, Pitt also represented the Forest Service in the Snake River Adjudication, a case ultimately settled by the U.S. Supreme Court. Since returning to Montana in 2011, he has taught environmental law and water law at Salish Kootenai College in Pablo, and taught a summer course at the University of Montana law school titled Water Rights in Indian Country.

• Larry Robertson, also of Polson, who earned a bachelor’s from the University of Minnesota in Soil and Water Resource Management. He spent 36 years working for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, with stints in Hardin, Conrad, Townsend, Helena, Shelby, Polson, and Ronan. He is a founding member of the Montana Grape and Winery Association and the Winery Association of Montana and manages his own vineyard and winery in Polson. 

• Ray Swenson of St. Ignatius, who has spent more than 40 years as a rancher and irrigator. He is an elected member of the Mission Irrigation District and has served as the board’s chairman for two terms. Since water-board nominees may not be elected officials, Swenson would have to step down from his post on the irrigation district if chosen by the governor. 

After selecting nominees last Monday, Commissioner Gale Decker said he felt good about the five choices Lake County is submitting to the governor. “They all fit the description of what kind of qualities people are supposed to bring to the table,” he said. 

Sanders County Commissioners also submitted two nominees last week: Dave Bick of Ace Drilling, a well drilling and service company headquartered in Polson, and longtime Hot Springs rancher Terry Prongua. Flathead and Missoula counties were also asked to submit nominees who must either live on the reservation or own or maintain a seasonal residence here, and have relevant education and experience.

According to an email from Lt. Gov. Kristen Juris, sent to the county commissioners Dec. 1, board members “will generally meet once a week” with occasional extra meetings scheduled as necessary. The state and Tribes have agreed to compensate board members at a flat rate of $175 per meeting, and will reimburse members for travel and meal expenses. Meetings will be held on the reservation, at locations determined by the board. 

Once the governor appoints two members, the board will convene to select a fifth, and then hire a water engineer to carry out functions assigned by the board in accordance with the new Unitary Administration and Management Ordinance. The board will also include a sixth non-voting member, representing the Department of the Interior. 

In addition to funding the start-up and operation costs for the board and the engineer, the state and CSKT will cover day-to-day costs associated with establishing and operating an office, and contribute reports and provide technical assistance as needed. 


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